KOCHI: The state government informed the Kerala High Court that the privacy of the data collected from devotees for virtual queue booking for Sabarimala darshan is being strictly maintained and no one can access the details. Besides, spot booking counters at Nilakkal, Erumeli and Kumily would be opened soon.
Pilgrims without mobile phones also can avail the spot booking facility, added the government. The court then directed the government to consider providing more spot booking facilities at various places in the state so that the maximum number of devotees can use the facility subject to the availability of slots. The government replied that a decision in this regard will be announced by Saturday evening.
When the petitions against the virtual queue system came up for hearing, state attorney N Manoj Kumar submitted that in order to ensure data privacy in the virtual queue system, all ID proof details uploaded in the 'Sabarimala Pilgrim Management System' ('SPMS') from 2019 are encrypted, so they are not accessible and visible to anyone in plain text mode (readable text format). Police personnel at the verification counters see masked ID numbers. "All verifications are done on masking logic, wherein only the last four digits of the ID proof is visible to the operator. Taking it a step further, the ID card number search from the front end at the time of verification is also disabled. The privacy of the data collected is being strictly maintained," submitted the government.
The court expressed displeasure over the officer in charge of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) not filing a statement with regard to data privacy. "Despite the order on November 8, the officer in charge of TCS has not chosen to file a report on data privacy and with regard to administering the queue system."
The state attorney further added that as of November 10, 2021, 18,30,000 virtual queue coupons were released. Of these, 13,34,347 coupons are booked and 2,06,246 coupons were cancelled by the pilgrims.
A Division Bench comprising Justice Anil K Narendran and Justice PG Ajith Kumar held that any persons having access to the data, whether it is state police or others, have to ensure data privacy. If there is any violation, the person who is responsible will face stringent action. The legal issues regarding the management of the virtual queues will be decided later.
The court noted that although sufficient safeguards for data protection should be enforced, for the time being, it was ideal that the system continues since there was no alternative for booking for the darshan. It was then added provisions should be made to ensure that a maximum number of devotees are allowed to attend the darshan at the temple, including those who do not own a mobile phone.
Currently, there is a limit of 30,000 devotees to attend the Sabarimala darshan. It was suggested that certain slots should be earmarked for people opting for spot booking so that they are not denied their right to go to darshan, or be allowed over and above the limit.
The state attorney responded that as of now, it was decided that 2 per cent slots will be earmarked for slot booking and added that after further discussion, it could be relaxed during the festival season taking into account the pandemic situation.
The counsel for the Travancore Devaswom Board urged that in addition to Aadhaar and electoral ID, online booking may be permitted with a copy of one's passport. The state attorney replied that the feasibility of having such an option will be considered.